FAR 61.51 sets out the regulations for logging flight time. It does not specify the type of logbook that a pilot must use—only that it is in a “manner acceptable to the Administrator.” Before we go any further, we’ll state unequivocally: Electronic logbooks are acceptable to the Administrator.
We’ll also quickly digress to point out that the FAA defines “flight time” in Part 1.1, General Definitions as “Pilot time that commences when an aircraft moves under its own power for the purpose of flight and ends when the aircraft comes to rest after landing.” So, if you start up and sit there idling while you fiddle with things and play with the glass panel while the Hobbs runs, you can’t log it as flight time. It also means that you don’t have to limit the flight time you log to the time while the aircraft is not touching the ground.
The FAA requires that pilots be able to prove they meet the requirements of the FARs for recency of experience in takeoffs and landings and instrument flight. Pilots also have to prove that they have received the proper endorsements for such things as flight reviews, operating high-performance and complex aircraft, airplanes with tailwheels and pressurized aircraft that have a service ceiling above 25,000 feet. A logbook, be it paper or electronic, is the easiest method of being able to show such proof.
In addition, flight schools and FBOs that rent airplanes usually want to see evidence that you have the flight experience that you claim—and they can demand that evidence in whatever form they wish, almost invariably a pilot logbook, paper or electronic.
Insurance companies ask that you fill out an application that calls for a breakdown of your flying time. If you have an accident, the company may demand proof that you actually had that level of experience when you filled out the form. Your logbook is the evidence the company will require. A word to the wise—insurance companies base their decisions as to whether they will insure you and the premium they charge on the experience and flight time you set out on the application. If you exaggerate—and then have an accident and can’t prove that you had the claimed time—you could (although it’s rare) be leaving yourself open for the company to deny coverage.
As with compliance with most of the FARs, you are on your honor when you record your flight time in a logbook, be it paper or electronic. Because logbook FAR compliance is on the honor system, the FAA comes down particularly hard when it finds a pilot has falsified his or her logbook, be it paper or electronic. We are aware of cases in which pilots have had all of their certificates revoked for falsifying their logbooks. We are also aware of the FAA denying a pilot’s application for an ATP rating on the grounds that he didn’t meet the good moral character requirement of FAR 61.153(c) because he’d previously had a violation for logbook falsification.
We do not think that the chances of falsification are any better or worse based on whether a pilot uses a paper or electronic logbook. The issue is not the method of recording flight time, it’s the person doing the recording, in our opinion.
What we do consider to be more of an issue is the loss of the record itself. Pilots have lost their paper logbooks or had them stolen. We have a certain degree of unease with the long-term viability of electronic methods of storage as we’ve seen companies go out of business and records lost when servers were shut down.
No matter what type of logbook you use, we strongly recommend that you back it up in a secure manner. After all, it is the history of some of the most important events in your life.